This is super awkward.
Bill Belichick will be 70 next time he coaches an NFL game. He has a Nantucket compound, a boat called “VIII Rings,” and probably makes more money than any coach in America. He’s on pace to become the winningest coach in NFL history and has absolute power with the direction of the Patriot franchise.
And yet these are not great days for Belichick. He just saw his upstart team suffer a humiliating playoff defeat in Buffalo, then watched 44-year-old Tom Brady advance in the tournament with yet another quarterbacking masterpiece Sunday afternoon.
Oh, and one more thing …
Fair or unfair, there’s the nepotism thing.
Belichick has two sons on the Patriots coaching staff, both on defense. One of them, Steve, who has been with the team for 10 seasons, may be the de facto defensive coordinator. Matt Patricia was the last Patriot assistant coach officially listed as “defensive coordinator.” Brian Flores did the same job but never had the title. Today, Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo are believed to be acting as co-defensive coordinators.
When Bill Belichick’s team delivers a defensive stinkbomb like Saturday’s in Buffalo, coaching is going to come into question. The Hoodie acknowledged that the Bills “were clearly the better-coached team.”
When the head coach says that, and his son may be the team’s defensive coordinator, well … you should see my inbox.
It’s awkward. And probably unfair. I mean, who among us wouldn’t want our children working with us in the family business?
Football sons coaching with football dads is older than the T formation. Legendary Wade Phillips came in under legendary Bum Phillips in Houston. Rex Ryan coached with his dad, Buddy Ryan. Kyle Shanahan coached under Mike Shanahan in Washington. Pete Carroll had his son, Brennan, working for him in Seattle. Bill Belichick was drawn to football coaching because his dad, Steve, was a career college coach at the Naval Academy.
But it’s still uncomfortable at times like this. Delicate. It puts everyone in a box. It’s the elephant in the room.
Patriots owner Bob Kraft certainly understands the good parts about having your sons in the family business. Jonathan Kraft rarely leaves his father’s side at Patriot games, and Dan Kraft has been part of the football operation since Bob Kraft bought the team in 1994.
It was the same when Billy Sullivan owned the Patriots. Patrick Sullivan served as general manager and brother Chuck almost ruined the franchise when he cut a deal with Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour in 1984.
Celtics fans won’t soon forget Don Gaston and his son Paul (“Thanksdad”). Bruins boss Charlie Jacobs is CEO of Delaware North Boston Holdings, which, of course, is owned by his father Jeremy Jacobs.
It goes back to the beginning of time with Boston sports teams. When the Hub’s American League baseball team was sold to General Charles H. Taylor, publisher of the mighty Boston Globe, in 1904 (imagine the Globe owning the Red Sox!), the general appointed his wayward son John I. Taylor to run the ball club. It was the son of the owner who named them “Red Sox” and built Fenway Park in 1912.
Decades later, Marc Sullivan, the son of Sox owner Haywood Sullivan, was a backup catcher for the 1986 Red Sox team that advanced to the seventh game of the World Series. Wonder if manager John McNamara ever felt pressure to pencil Marc Sullivan into the lineup.
Steve Belichick, 34, serves as “outside linebackers coach,” according to the Patriots media guide. He has 10 seasons with the team under his belt, four as a coaching assistant, four with the secondary, and two as outside linebackers coach. He was a walk-on long snapper at Rutgers.
Steve Belichick got a lot of applause when the Patriots won seven in a row, and it was not unusual for Bill to make note of good defensive play calls by Steve.
Brian Belichick, coach Bill’s younger son, has six seasons of service with the team and today is listed as safeties coach. He played high school football and lacrosse at Trinity.
On Sunday, Bill Belichick was asked about the progression of his coaching staff in the just-concluded season.
The coach delivered a lengthy, thoughtful answer, explaining the mix of older and younger coaches on the staff, concluding, “So that’s the kind of blend that we have, and I would anticipate that we would have that going forward.”
I reached out to Belichick’s longtime aide-de-camp, Berj Najarian, Monday morning, requesting an opportunity to ask Bill if it’s difficult to have sons on his coaching staff at a time like this. Does it make things awkward? Is it difficult for him to critique coaches with whom he shares such a personal bond? Does he ever have any regrets about having close family on his staff?
Belichick declined to respond.
Not sure I blame him.
It’s just an awkward reality.